National Bison Day with Oakland Zoo, Blackfeet Nation and Wildlife Conservation Society in Joint Bison Restoration Project

Oakland Zoo
December 1, 2017

Cultural Leaders and Elder of the Blackfeet Nation Reservation speak about the Iinnii Initiative, restoring the American Bison to Blackfeet Nation’s tribal lands and to Oakland Zoo’s California Trail Expansion

On National Bison Day, our country’s new National Mammal was honored at an evening affair held at Oakland Zoo’s new Landing Café at California Trail. Oakland Zoo’s President & CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott, Keith Aune from the Wildlife Conservation Society, and John Murray, Blackfeet Nation Elder and other cultural leaders from the Blackfeet Nation tribes will present and speak about the three organizations coming together to make the Bison Restoration Project (Iinnii Initiative) a reality. Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Council, Harry Barnes, will also speak about the tribes’ Buffalo Spirit Center, a new effort in the initiative.

The Iinnii Initiative is focused on bringing bison back to their native lands. In April 2016, the Blackfeet Nation, Oakland Zoo and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) brought 88 plains bison from Elk Island, a National Park in Canada, to the reservation of the Blackfeet Nation near Browning, Montana - the original homeland of the bison. The historic event cannot be overstated in its significance to the Blackfeet people and all tribes and First Nations in their quest to restore bison to native lands and re-establish ties to this cultural icon.

The bison calves transferred are descended from those captured on Blackfeet land in 1873 that became the noted “Pablo-Allard” herd. Approximately 17 of these bison will be moved to Oakland Zoo this coming March as part of Oakland Zoo’s ‘California Trail’ expansion. The project, more than doubling the zoo’s size, will consist of 56 acres and exhibit several animal species native to California, including the iconic bison. The newly arrived bison will be allowed to breed naturally, and each year the yearling offspring will be returned to the tribal lands in Montana.

Both the Oakland Zoo and Blackfeet Nation will share in educational programs and support each other’s interest in promoting bison conservation and culture preservation. This mutual relationship will include youth exchange for education, fundraising for projects, and promotion of eco-tourism programs.

President and CEO of the Oakland Zoo Dr. Joel Parrott said,“We are excited to be part of the Iinnii Initiative, to bring bison back to historic tribal lands and to provide the opportunity for buffalo to be free-ranging wildlife. This is a great opportunity for the Oakland Zoo to support conservation in the field, provide education programs about bison to our youth, and to expose the people of Northern California to the Blackfeet Nation effort to return buffalo to Blackfeet land.”

"The Blackfeet Nation is excited and optimistic of a new level in our relationship with the Oakland Zoo. While I signed an Memorandum of Understanding with the zoo, I feel our relationship is beyond the written word. Our goals are of mutual interest and we will now forever be joined through the Buffalo. The Elk Island buffalo and the Blackfeet's journey have been one and the same. A journey from the great Blackfeet Nation to Salish-Kootenai to Canada. And then back home. And now to Oakland. This has not only been a journey miles, but of circumstances. Struggles, near annihlitation, uncertain future, and resurgence and rebirth. A common journey between a proud people and a majestic animal. We now welcome the Oakland Zoo into this circle of life,"Harry Barnes, Chairman, Blackfeet Tribal Council.

“The ‘buffalo’ remains a sacred cornerstone of Native American life and culture. For the past 7 years WCS and The Blackfeet Nation have been partnering to “bring the buffalo home” to its native habitat in Montana. We are excited to include Oakland Zoo in our efforts to advance this bison restoration vision. This National Bison Day on November 4 is the perfect time to grand vision and share with others the story about returning bison to an ancient culture and a beautiful wildland,”Keith Aune, Wildlife Conservation Society.

About the American Bison

The bison, North America’s largest land mammal, once roamed the continent and helped sustain plains and prairie ecosystems as a keystone species through grazing, fertilization, trampling, wallowing, and other activities. Bison shaped the vegetation and landscape as they fed on and dispersed the seeds of grasses, sedges, and forbs. Several plains bird species adapted to or co-evolved with grasses and other vegetation that had been, for millennia, grazed on by millions of free-ranging bison.

Bison have played an important role in America’s history, culture and economy. Before being nearly driven to extinction by westward expansion, between 30—50 million bison roamed across most of North America. In 1907, the American Bison Society ( with President Theodore Roosevelt as a member) began an effort to save the bison by shipping 15 animals by train from the WCS Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Many Native American tribes revere bison as a sacred and spiritual symbol of their heritage and maintain private bison herds on tribal lands throughout the West. Bison now exist in all 50 states in public and private herds, providing recreation opportunities for wildlife viewers in zoos, refuges and parks and sustaining the multimillion dollar bison ranching and production business.

The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council is a federally chartered Tribal organization dedicated to the restoration of buffalo to Tribal lands in manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices. ITBC has been working on this mission since 1992.


The WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is a US nonprofit, tax-exempt, private organization established in 1895 that saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. With long-term commitments in dozens of landscapes, presence in more than 60 nations, and experience helping to establish over 150 protected areas across the globe, WCS has amassed the biological knowledge, cultural understanding and partnerships to ensure that vibrant, wild places and wildlife thrive alongside local communities. WCS was the first conservation organization with a dedicated team of wildlife veterinarians and other health professionals deployed around the world. The WCS Wildlife Health & Health Policy Program focuses on problem-solving at the wildlife / domestic animal / human health and livelihoods interface, as underpinned by a foundation of environmental stewardship.


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